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January 19, 2007
Writing about web page http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2006/virus-battery.html
Researchers build tiny batteries with viruses
MIT scientists have harnessed the construction talents of tiny viruses to build ultra-small "nanowire" structures for use in very thin lithium-ion batteries.
By manipulating a few genes inside these viruses, the team was able to coax the organisms to grow and self-assemble into a functional electronic device.
The goal of the work, led by MIT Professors Angela Belcher, Paula Hammond and Yet-Ming Chiang, is to create batteries that cram as much electrical energy into as small or lightweight a package as possible. The batteries they hope to build could range from the size of a grain of rice up to the size of existing hearing aid batteries.
Specifically, they manipulated the genes in a laboratory strain of a common virus, making the microbes collect exotic materials -- cobalt oxide and gold. [...] The viruses then align themselves on the polymer surface to form ultrathin wires. Each virus, and thus the wire, is only 6 nanometers (6 billionths of a meter) in diameter, and 880 nanometers in length.[...]
Equally important, the reactions needed to create nanowires occur at normal room temperatures and pressures, so there is no need for expensive pressure-cooking technology to get the job done.
"The nanoscale materials we've made supply two to three times the electrical energy for their mass or volume, compared to previous materials," the team reported.
This seems to be one of the most interesting developments in nanotechnology over the past few years, at least from a consumer's point of view. I know that they've been investigating the medicinal purposes of nanotechnology (for example, experiments with bacteriophages in immunology) as well as the possibility of using organic material as computer memory, but this is the first I've heard of nanotech batteries, not to mention successful outcomes.
It's especially exciting for me as a consumer and a consummate gamer because of the fantastic potential in reducing the weight of portable objects whilst increasing battery life. It could do wonders for the world of portable gaming, for photography, for portable DVD players... the possible applications make me shudder with excitement!
It will be interesting to see what the practical cons of these batteries will be. Any microbiologists/techies want to further enlighten me?